9 Animals You Might Not Know Are Native to the US

These unique creatures may not look like they’re from around here, but they are.

A jaguar moving through tall green grass.

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The United States has been home to a staggering array of wildlife species—from big cats to wild pigs and nocturnal moths—but not all of these native species are still thriving in the U.S. Learn about the animals that call the U.S. home and find out what is being done to recover the ones that have been lost.

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An ocelot relaxing in a green landscape.

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The ocelot, also called a dwarf leopard, is a small wild cat species. In the U.S., ocelots once ranged as far east as Arkansas and Louisiana. Now, ocelots in the U.S. are limited to Arizona and southern Texas, including a small population in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The species is also native to large swaths of Central and South America.

Though their population is decreasing, ocelots are listed as least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Redlist. These solitary cats are territorial, and they rely on thick vegetation for shelter and hunting.

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Collared Peccary

A small grey collard peccary sniffing for food on a dirt and plant covered field.

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This adorable mammal is not a feral pig, although it is commonly mistaken for one. Also called javelinas, collared peccaries are found in the southwestern United States in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The species is also native to Central and South America.

Collared peccaries are omnivores and dine on cactus, fruits, roots and tubers, insects, and even small vertebrates. They travel in small herds of around six to 10 individuals, but some herds can be as large as 50 members or more.

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ringtail laying on a large rock with its ears up.

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The ringtail (or ring-tailed cat, miner's cat, or marv cat) is a member of the raccoon family, despite its feline names. Found in the south, southwest, and west coast of the United States, the ringtail is the state mammal of Arizona. A nocturnal, solitary animal, ringtails are difficult to spot, making it challenging for researchers to calculate their population.

Ringtails are carnivores that prey on small mammals, insects, birds, and reptiles, though they also consume fruit and plants when available.

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jaguarundi in tall grass

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The jaguarundi is a wild cat that at one time roamed the U.S. in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. Most of the jaguarundi habitat is now in the lowlands of Mexico and south through Central America and portions of South America. While a confirmed sighting of a jaguarundi has not occurred in the U.S. since 1986, they have been spotted near the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife environmentalist groups filed lawsuits in 2020 challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) opinions regarding two proposed liquefied natural gas plants planned for construction in the Port of Brownsville, Texas. The groups, which are working to reestablish jaguarundi in southern Texas, claim that the projects potentially threaten the jaguarundi and ocelot populations.

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Flying Squirrel

A southern flying squirrel clinging to the side of a tree

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Of the estimated 50 species of flying squirrels, only three are found in North America: the northern flying squirrel, the southern flying squirrel, and the Humboldt’s flying squirrel, first described as a separate species in 2017. Often called gliding squirrels because they don’t actually fly (bats are the only mammal with that ability), flying squirrels have a membrane between their front and hind legs that allows them to glide.

Southern flying squirrels can be found in the eastern U.S. from Maine to Florida and west from Minnesota south to Texas. Meanwhile, the northern flying squirrel lives as far east as North Carolina and Tennessee, and west to Colorado, California, and Alaska. The habitat of the Humboldt’s flying squirrel overlaps the northern flying squirrel range along the Pacific coast from Southern California to Southern British Columbia. Northern flying squirrels are omnivores, eating seeds, nuts, fruit, and insects, but the southern flying squirrel's diet also includes eggs, carrion, and birds, making them one of the most carnivorous squirrel species.

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A brown-faced coati with a long snout and small ears standing near fallen trees.

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A member of the raccoon family, the white-nosed coati is found in forests and canyons in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and southwest Texas. The coati range extends to Mexico, Central America, and portions of South America. About the size of a large house cat, the coati has a long ringed tail that it holds straight up in the air somewhat like a flag, which helps keep group members together even in tall vegetation.

The coati is omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Females live in packs with their young, while males are only part of the pack during mating.

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Luna Moth

A green luna moth on bright green leaves with red stems.

Susan Wiltse / Getty Images

The luna moth is commonly found throughout the eastern half of the United States and in Canada from Nova Scotia west to Saskatchewan. This lime-green moth grows up to four and a half inches across and is one of the largest moths in North America.

The nocturnal luna moth only lives for about seven days once reaching adulthood because they have no mouths and can't eat; in fact, they exist as adults only to reproduce. They have just one generation a year in the North, but as many as three in southern states.

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Jaguar lying on rocks in a lush green forest.

Arjo Van Timmeren / EyeEm / Getty Images

The jaguar was not always limited to the jungles of Central and South America. This threatened cat species was once a common resident of the United States from southern California to Louisiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina. But the third-largest cat species was eliminated from the U.S. in the early 1900s.

However, thanks to the Jaguar Conservation Plan, which began in 2016, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been leading efforts to recover jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico. All sightings to date have been males, but with efforts to connect and improve suitable habitats, there is hope for an increase in the population of these majestic creatures.

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Thick-billed Parrot

A lime green thick-billed parrot with vivid red markings around bright yellow eyes.

Patrick Rolands / Shutterstock

The only living parrot species native to North America, the thick-billed parrot was once found throughout Arizona and New Mexico. The bird is now found only in Mexico, primarily in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains. Loss of habitat due to hunting, logging, and the illegal pet trade decimated its numbers. This endangered species’ population totals only 2,000 to 2,800 individuals and is decreasing.

A reintroduction program in the 1980s was unsuccessful due to habitat changes and a rise in raptor species and was discontinued in 1993.

View Article Sources
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  2. "Animal Fact Sheet: Collared Peccary or Javelina." Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

  3. "Jaguarundi (Herpailurus Yaguarondi)." Texas Parks and Wildlife.

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  6. "Goddess of the Moon: The Life History of the Luna Moth." Finger Lakes Land Trust.

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